I finally made it to the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival for the first time. Seeing electronics legend Dieter Moebius was very cool, but perhaps the most interesting performance of the evening was by NYC outfit Loud Objects. The performance consists of members wiring up an electronic sound circuit in real-time, soldering irons and all, on an overhead projector. I’m not sure how much variation there was in the sound source but, it was fascinating to hear it go from silence to crazy changes to the signal as you watch them add wires and chips to the circuit.
I remember listening to a long, tinny mp3 a friend passed along of some noise-rock band. Even through the bad fidelity, the mesmerizing intensity of swirling time distortion hooked me. When Val pinged me again, this time with tickets, I wasn’t going to let a Monday night prevent me from checking them out live. So off we went to downtown Oakland to hear The Psychic Paramount. Dizzying. Crushing. Time-stretching. Fantastic. Transcendent. Inspirational. Click an image below to view the slide show.
When I was interviewing for my present job, the conpany’s live-work balance and tendency to hire interesting and creative people were offered as plusses. I didn’t think too much about it at the time. I was just interested in the job. But it turned out to be true; there seem to be a larger than expected number of musicians and artists working there. It has helped me to reconnect with art activity that I have lost touch with after years of grad school, parenting, and full-time work. A case in point was last Friday evening when I ventured out to the Berkeley Arts Festival to see one of my co-workers perform his spoken word/sound art. The venue presents visual works on the walls along with the performances on the stage.
Dean Santomieri is well-known in the performance scene around the Bay Area. I’m sorry not to have been familiar with his work prior to getting this job, chatting at work, finding lots of common interests, and exchanging recordings. In any case, the performance last Friday was wonderful. Dean is a great writer and story teller, and he accompanies himself with a battery of electronics and guitars, creating a aural environment that nicely supports the spoken word without ever getting in its way. The writing, what I might call magical realism, drew me in right away, eliciting a curious mixture of delight and trepidation.
And it was inspirational too. I’m not giving up photography, but I’m pledging to myself to fire up the old electronics and get back to work. And speaking of photography… I wish I had sat closer and gotten a shot of Dean playing that crazy, electric resonator guitar. I will next time.
In honor of Record Store Day today, I took our guests for the day, Sarah’s sister Carrie and BF Glenn, up to Down Home Music. As many of you know, this is one of the most important records stores around for folk, Americana, jazz, and more. The result was that I picked up the 10-disk box set of Bob Wills’ complete Tiffany Transcriptions. I was absolutely overjoyed to find it there. I had it in my shopping cart on Amazon for awhile and then it sold out. But the double joy today was that not only did I find it, but I supported an independent record label/company/store that’s a major player in documenting Americana and folk music from around the world.
If you didn’t do it today, get out there tomorrow and buy something from your local indie record store. And if you are in the SF Bay Area, definitely check out Down Home Music. Really.
Way back in the mid-1980′s, when we lived in Fresno, Sarah and I came to be friends with Steve Schick. At the time, Steve was percussionist and young professor in the music department there. And for awhile we shared a circle of friends, local music events, reading and listening groups, and generally hung out.
Meanwhile, Sarah and I were in the habit of coming up to San Francisco to see music and performance works at what was then Theater Artaud, a fantastic space devoted to avant performance works of all kinds. And it was there that on one occasion we saw Paul Dresher Ensemble with Rinde Eckert perform Slow Fire. I’ll save the life-changing details for another post. Let’s just say we were blown away and a lot of things were fixed in our young minds about what was what in contemporary performance.
Eventually, Steve took a job at UC San Diego, and his career and reputation grew as a solo percussionist and champion of contemporary composition. And the rest is history. We moved to Seattle where I stuck my nose in the philosophy books for the better part of a decade. We generally lost touch with Steve, but did connect once or twice after we moved to the Bay Area in 2000.
Today, we experienced an interesting and joyous alignment. We went to see Steve perform Schick Machine, a percussion/theater work written for Steve by Mr. Dresher and Mr. Eckert, at the former Theater Artaud, resurrected a year ago as Z Space. The piece was a fabulous, sprawling cacophony of rhythms, looping textures, words, and visual delights issuing from a stage full of homemade percussion instruments and self-propelled noisemakers. There was a homemade pipe organ, a hurdy-gurdy, sheets of metal, spinning disks, steel hula hoops, slit drums, bottles, cans, alarm bells, and more, all mic’d and looped. We had seen the piece performed almost two years ago at Stanford. Since then, it has changed quite a bit, getting better and more focused. And seeing it in this space somehow made it all the more compelling. Maybe that’s just me and the history it has for me.
We went with friends and all brought our kids to this, the last matinee performance. The kids loved it. As it turns out, there were a total of 19 performances, with many matinees just for school classes that came over the last two weeks. And today, just like as with the school classes that attended, everyone was invited up after the performance to play with all the crazy instruments. Kids and adults alike had a blast.
Reconnecting with an old friend, a former fave venue, and the performance world all in one day. That feels good.
This evening I managed to attend The San Francisco Tape Music Festival 2011. I enjoyed it immensely. There were some really wonderful pieces and an appreciative audience. Of course, many in the audience were probably participants waiting their turn on this or one of the next two nights–I recognize that this is not a hugely popular genre. Nonetheless, it was good to see a decent audience out for this kind of art. I myself would go fairly regularly to see and hear experimental music if I could, but life is different now than it was when I was in college with few real obligations and responsibilities.
In any case, the first half consisted of works by Adrian Moore, Mauricio Kagel, Paul Dresher, and bran(…)pos. It was a solid set that really showcased the power of electronic music experienced in a good venue with a terrific multi-channel sound system. The second half was more mixed with a piece by Christian Marclay being the standout. To be fair, by the time the second half began, my ears and brain were tired and I was surely not as receptive as I was earlier in the evening. The relative accessibility of the Marclay piece, with its turntablism aesthetic, gave it a leg up at this point in the evening.
The concert was at the Southside Theater at Fort Mason Center. I have never been to this particular space before, and had not been out to Fort Mason in a couple years, so wandering the foggy cold grounds for a bit after the show was a treat in itself. The Exploratorium has some installations along the water that focus on the nature of SF Bay, and they were interesting to see.
Beyond being a consumer, I was really inspired to again be a producer. Following on yesterday’s confessional post regarding picking up the guitar again, I’m now entertaining a commitment to using the gear that has been set up and dutifully standing by for years. It has sat here day after day as if any second I would just jump in and start working again at composing electronic.
I used to compose a lot, and even naively thought of it as a career track. I wish I had pursued it more rigorously and with determination. I’d love to have a job making experimental electronic music. And making fine art photographs. And perhaps putting the two together. Can’t I just have a patron?
The music gear is set up but just sits there collecting dust. Why? Too much photography? Too much worrying about career? Too much domestic work to do? Too much facebook? Too much everything, really. The suggestion that some or all of it should go is realistic, but devastating just the same. I started the process of paring down, and piled up some things for sale or storage.
I decided I really still want to compose, so I also finally tackled getting my audio software up and running on the brand new iMac. The good news is that the recording software, MOTU’s Digital Performer, all works on OS 10.6, despite being two major releases old. The bad news is that the patch librarian/editor software for all my old synths doesn’t. It won’t run at all, and it doesn’t look like MOTU is really supporting any more. That’ll be a headache to solve.
In the meantime I came across some ambient pieces I had been working on a couple years ago. For some reason they all have working titles derived from works by Paracelsus. Here is a rough mix of the first one.
Click the link above to show the player, then click the pointer for playback.
I attended Maker Faire 2009 this last weekend with Sarah and Theo. I was not quite sure what all to really expect other than “burners”, art cars, and other alt-artists. It is definitely a scene for Bay Area hipsters.The fire-breathing snail truck, motorized one-person cupcakes, tesla coils, fire-arts displays from The Crucible, body art, etc. set that vibe for sure.
If it were just this, it would have been fine, but it was so much more than this. We went as a family, and the number of activities and other things geared toward kids and families was really great. Theo was totally into it. Of course, for a six-year-old boy, the main buzz was word of a large Legoland display and activity area. Theo wouldn’t settle down until we found it, and then wouldn’t leave it once we did. (We could hardly escape to do the things WE wanted to do.) There were many other building, science and educational activities and presentations going on from groups like NASA and Exploratorium. Sarah and I both came to the conclusion that the Weekend Pass is a good idea; the Faire really demands a two-day visit, and next year we thought we’d spend one day largely devoted to kid stuff, and one day to explore all the stuff we really want to see. I was disappointed to entirely miss Survival Research Labs among other things.
Among the things I checked out was the experimental and computer music section, which was definitely cool. There were individuals there with their own creations, like computer controlled prepared piano, home-built electronic zither things, guitars with sound-sensitive color displays built into the body, and more. I also discovered organizations like Sound Arts, which work to support the sound arts community in a variety of ways. I was actually inspired to try to participate next year. I’m eager to start composing electronic music again, and perhaps put it together with photographic imagery. There were several multi-media tools on exhibit, and the possibilities for interactive mash-ups appear to be very extensive. So, we’ll see..
Beyond the fun of electronic noise-toys, it seems to me that the notion of making your own fill-in-the-blank, instead of relying only on mass-produced consumables for furnishing one’s life, is more important than ever. A quick review of the story of stuff should convince you of that. In fact, among the most interesting and yet slightly disturbing activities we did at Maker Faire involved making things out of discarded stuff, mostly computer stuff. There were gigantic piles of computer gear that were available for dismantling and use as raw material. (I’m not really sure which Theo enjoyed more, destroying a computer keyboard, or assembling its pieces into a robot ship.) The fun aside, the sheer volume of discarded material present here gives one pause as to what must be going into the world’s landfills. Thank goodness for groups like the Alameda County Computer Resource Center, which was a participating organization and probably the source of the “art supplies”, for what they do to stem the tide of electronics discards.
Not that everyone is going to build their own computers. But there were exhibits and activities on everything from sewing, to gardening, to “slow food”, to green energy technology, to bicycling, and how to make your own robot. I’m already looking forward to next year.
I forgot to post earlier about the latest piece I added to the Sound page:
It was a collaboration between myself and Mike Mogan in the late 80′s. I am not sure of the year. It actually made it onto a cassette release of a compilation of Fresno indie music. I’m not sure what kind of music to call it, but it was influenced by early, so-called world music, Peter Gabriel, and ECM jazz stuff. I can’t remember what the title is a reference to. It was actually quite a challenge to record as it was done on a Tascam “Portastudio 244″ 4-track cassette recorder. There were quite a few parts and stereo imaging of things, so there was a lot of careful bouncing tracks down. It is hard to believe we managed to do it with somewhat decent mix levels and minimal tape noise.
Mike played rhythm guitar, the cool double-tracked guitar solo, and synthesizer. I played rhythm guitar (the part with the dubious timing), acoustic 12-string guitar, and did the drum machine programming. It was my first drum machine, the E-mu Drumulator. This thing came with a stock set of sounds that was a basic drum kit. Eventually, you could add, I should say change, sounds by swapping out the computer chips onto which he sounds were recorded. Here I have the ethnic percussion chip set going. It sounds a bit dry and forward in this mix. I think we actually recorded a sync track for the drumulator on the tape and printed the stereo percussion part straight to the mixdown.